Sunday, December 30, 2018

Age of Consent [dir. Michael Powell]

Michael Powell, especially in conjunction with his partner Emeric Pressburger, made films across genres and in a variety of styles, but in each film there was a unified vision, a fidelity to the theme that marked their genius. Even in Powell's solo output, Peeping Tom was a product of that same consistency of design. Which is why I find Age of Consent somewhat puzzling.

There's the central story of a aging jaded painter trying to find himself again and the young (underage, the film repeatedly reminds us) girl who becomes his muse, and in the process discovers her own womanhood. This is done with an admirable delicacy of touch and aided by the involved acting from James Mason and a very brave Helen Mirren in their respective parts (of course the sense of taboo is mitigated by the fact that the frequently naked Helen doesn't look remotely like the underage girl she is supposed to be, or perhaps that was just the gin-soaked tyrant grandmother's attempt to delude the girl and rein her in as a continued source of income).
What jars here is the mixture of the bawdy comedy track, majorly from the scenes with Jack MacGowran as a money and "bird"-fancying moocher. It seems at odds with the central narrative, looking more like an attempt to inject some crowd-pleasing laughs to keep the film from becoming too serious. The film is otherwise fine in its low-key manner (very low-key, I thought the death of a certain character would have more melodramatic consequences, and the film ends all too abruptly, leaving pertinent questions about the equation between the painter and the girl unanswered). There's terrific location and underwater photography capturing the beauty of the Great Barrier Reef, and a hypnotic score by Peter Sculthorpe. And yes, a terrific performance by the dog Lonsdale that plays Mason's companion Godfrey (Powell was apparently miffed that none of the critics at the time mentioned the dog in their reviews).

The credits specify that "Miss Mirren is a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company", probably to establish her respectability and discourage anyone only interested in the naughty bits.

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